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Genital Herpes

Herpes Simplex Virus 2

HSV-2 Virions, Image courtesy of CDCHerpes is one of the most common STIs among sexually active students. Two forms of the herpes simplex virus can be contracted: HSV 1 and HSV 2. HSV 1 is associated with cold sores on the lips and sores found on the eye. HSV 2 is the typical cause of genital herpes. Both forms are highly contagious and are transmitted by any oral and/or genital contact during an outbreak. In the U.S., 50-80% of adults have oral herpes and approximately 1 in 5 have genital herpes. Herpes is a chronic medical condition.

How is it transmitted?

Genital Herpes can be spread through any vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse with an individual who has the virus. It is a common misconception that the virus is only active when visible symptoms are present, therefore herpes is often spread between outbreaks when there are no symptoms.

How can you protect yourself?

Always practice safe sex through use of condoms. Avoid oral sex with an individual with a cold sore. Avoid genital contact with a known infected person or one with sores near or on the genital area/mouth. It is essential to ask your partner about his/her sexual history and if he/she has ever contracted an STI.

What are the symptoms in women?

Once infected, there is a 3 to 7 day period in which there are no symptoms. After this incubation period, the infected area will begin to itch and become red. Blisters develop and break, leaving behind a red area on the skin that often resembles a rash. The infected area will often be mistaken for other skin irritations, such as mosquito bites or ingrown hairs.

What are the symptoms in men?

Like in women, herpes in men appear as a cluster of small fluid filled blisters that break and appear as sores on the skin's surface. Often, outbreaks can look like pimples, a rash, or raised bumps underneath the skin. Genital herpes outbreaks can appear on the penis, scrotum, urethra, buttocks, and thighs. Painful urination can be an associated symptom if sores affect the urethra. In men, genital herpes often is mistaken for jock itch, mosquito bites, ingrown hairs, or hemorrhoids.

How is it diagnosed?

Herpes is usually recognized by a doctor when blisters are observed in clusters on areas that commonly have sexual contact. The fluid within these blisters can be tested, but these tests will often return a false negative. Because of this, blood tests and DNA tests can confirm a diagnosis.

What is the treatment?

Treatment with retroviral drugs can help decrease the frequency of outbreaks. Drug therapy is not a cure but makes living with herpes more manageable. There are three major drugs commonly used to treat genital herpes symptoms: acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex). These are all taken in pill form. Severe cases may be treated with intravenous (IV) acyclovir. New topical gel treatments are in the clinical trial stage of testing.

What are the long-term health effects?

If untreated, living with genital herpes can include a lifetime of frequent outbreaks. It can also cause other conditions such as inflammation of the rectum, brain, or the membrane that covers the brain. Genital Herpes can make a person more susceptible to HIV because of the skin lesions associated with herpes.

For more general information regarding genital herpes, visit these sites:

Other Facts:

  • There are currently no vaccines available for immunization against HSV-2.
  • Women are more apt to contract HSV-2 than men due differences in their respective genitalia. Moreover, different stages in a woman's menstrual cycle can leave her more prone to contacting HSV-2.
  • Prevalence of HSV-2 virus is highest among pregnant women.